The term ‘strong woman of Derry’ is one that’s perhaps overused these days - except when you’re talking about someone like Lizzy McGarrigle.
Lizzy (nee Strain), from Charlotte Street passed away last Thursday evening following a short illness.
Since her death, friends and neighbours have been reminiscing about a woman who’s not only been a source of strength to those around her, but also a person who could entertain far and wide with her many stories.
The wife of Bill, and mother to seven boys and two girls, at heart Lizzie was a family woman who idolised her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
But she was also a woman who cared deeply for the community around her.
Thirty five years ago Lizzie was one of the first people to start working at the newly opened Pilot’s Row Centre in the Bogside.
The Derry woman spent many years living in the high rise Rossville Street flats during the worst of the Troubles.
“The flats were great,” she once said in an interview with the ‘Journal.’ “At night the neighbours would meet. “But it was hard to bring up a family in the middle of the Troubles.
“My boys, like most of the other boys would have wanted to be out rioting, but I was determined to do what I could to keep them all out of it. In the end, the only way to stop them was to go with them.
“So I used to say: ‘if you’re going to riot, I’m going to riot too because if you’re lifted they’ll have to lift me as well.
“Then I’d say, now where do I throw this stone?”
Tragedy was something Lizzie had to cope with several times losing her son Tony in an accident when he was 18 and her daughter Monica when she was just two.
“It was tough and there were very sad times in my life, but through all of those challenges I had to remember that my other children needed me and life had to go on,” she said,
A talented seamstress, there are few people in the Bishop Street and Bogside area who don’t have a pair of curtains or set of cushions that have been stitched by Lizzie.
She was also a dedicated Mass goer, eventually settling to live in Charlotte Street just a stone’s throw from her beloved Long Tower church for which she regularly stitched ornate altar cloths.
On Sunday morning at the Long Tower church there was barely standing room as mourners packed the aisles for the Derry woman’s funeral.
Father Brendan Collins described Lizzie as a “true lady.”
“Lizzie McGarrigle or as most people seem to know her, Lizzie Strain, whatever name she was known by it doesn’t matter, we all knew the person behind the name.
“And I believe it is fair to say there will never be another, but I know so many of her many gifts remain behind in her children, her organisational skills, her faith and of course her humour.
“I have thought a lot about what I would say about Lizzie, she was a good friend to me since I have been in the parish and I know from the priests who previously served here that they too hold her in high esteem. Lizzie never complained and she never bothered anyone,
“She was a woman of peace, of gentleness, direct talk and care for those in need.
“On my first visit to Lizzie in the hospital I wasn’t able to find her, simply because I was looking for Lizzie Strain as this was the only name I had known her by, but after some time I got to see her.
“On this visit I asked her if she would like to receive Holy Communion, her face lit up with amazement that I had thought to bring her the Eucharist. From this day she received Holy Communion each day until she was no longer able to.
“For Lizzie these times were an opportunity to talk and pray together with her at her bedside.
“I believed she was a woman who was ready to meet her maker and of course before I would go she would share a story.
“People often ask me why I am a priest, Lizzie reminded me why, when she said YES to me that night in my invitation to her in receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, how her face lit up. It was her humility before God, our times of prayer and our chats about her life and her future with God, her worries and her joys.
“She entrusted all of this to me because I am a priest, because she had a great love of the church, she knew Jesus personally, she trusted and she believed. I hope that when I am faced with such challenges in my life that I can do it with the same grace and surrender as Lizzie.
“To her family she never complained during her illness, she wanted to protect them and she kept them waiting until she was ready to go, she left this world with them laughing, today I know she would want us to celebrate with joy her life but we are sad because a true lady has died and so we will miss her.
Lizzie I will never do justice to sharing about your life, this is impossible.
“A friend of yours said to me a few weeks ago, Lizzie is so loved, how people spoke so highly of her, I thought the friend may have been biased.
“However I now know this because of what I experienced in getting to know her and of what I heard others say about her, she was indeed loved by many.
“We all know so many stories and no-one can tell them quite like the lady herself, and I don’t think I could tell them here, if it the Sacred Heart picture, stories of her father, her quick wit or her facial expressions we were always sure of a laugh. Lizzie embraced her illness like she did anything she was faced with in life, she laughed, she loved and she accepted it all in faith and hope in Jesus her friend and saviour.
“We all hold memories of the one we loved and to use her own word ‘MAGIC’; this she was indeed.
“The memories that her family hold of a wonderful hardworking woman who was ready at any time to help someone else, her many years at Pilot’s Row with her dear friend Chris, her laughs and fun on holidays with Angela, Ann and others but we know her greatest love in life were her family.
“To Paul, Pat, Gerry, Liam, Adrian, Owen, Charlene and remembering Tony and Monica whom she and Bill had to let go from this earthly place.
“Her family were the reason for all that she did, she told me before she died that she will go happy and content because she was so proud of the family she and Bill reared and she knew that you will support each other. This was one statement she didn’t follow with a joke or a laugh, she was silent, knowing Lizzie, this meant more than anything. To you Bill, they say behind every good man there is a great woman, she said you were so kind and loving, we know she loved you dearly and together you had many happy years.”